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Shops and Gifts 

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Marina

Fleet Feet

2086 Chestnut (between Pierce and Scott), 921-7188

Forget the smorgasbord of cheapo shoes and sweat pants at discount sporting goods stores; discerning runners will find consumerist bliss at Fleet Feet, a boutique shop that offers apparel, accessories, and local running-oriented reading material. The store doesn't have tons of selection, but what's there has been carefully picked by a knowledgeable staff of runners and fitness buffs. If you're on a quest for the right shoe, they'll take all afternoon if necessary to fit you into a perfect pair. And as a bonus to patrons, the store's newsletter will keep you posted on running events and training activities all around the bay.

Mission

Paxton Gate

824 Valencia (at 19th St.), 824-1872

For that macabre friend, lover, or family member, stop by Paxton Gate for the perfectly ghoulish gift. In addition to an array of lush plant life and an extraordinary selection of orchids, they carry attention-getting carnivorous plants. The Venus Flytrap, pitcher plant, and sundew -- which trap and eat insects -- all make great presents for those with green thumbs and black hearts. And if that's not enough, Paxton Gate sells mounted bugs and stuffed mice, and offers classes in taxidermy to satisfy the wicked science buff in us all.

Noe Valley

Niftique Vintique

1767 Church (between Day and 30th St.), 643-0500

There is a certain used kitchenware store in San Francisco whose owner is a notorious harpy. If she doesn't like your looks or browsing style she's likely to yell you right out of her store before you even pay her criminal $50 price tag for a scratched jadeite egg cup. After such treatment, the honeyed tones and gentle manner of Niftique Vintique owner Holly Schneider soothe vintage-loving houseware shoppers like a medicated balm. What began as a private collection too large to store has turned into a tiny-but-mighty outlet for antique goodies like aluminum cake transporters, enameled serving trays, cookie cutters, cutesy salt-and-pepper shakers, and lovely old embroidered kitchen linens. Stepping inside is like taking a tour of Donna Reed's kitchen -- and unlike the jacked-up prices you'll find at other stores or on auction sites, Schneider's fees are sweetly reasonable.

24th Street Cheese Company

3893 24th St. (between Sanchez and Church), 821-6658

Nothing complements a winter array of apples, pears, walnuts, and tangerines like a roaring hearth, a snifter of brandy, and an excellent cheese -- a pungent Colston Basset stilton, perhaps, with a razor-sharp Grafton cheddar and a nutty sheep's milk Petit Basque for variety. A tasty place to find them is the 24th Street Cheese Co. A huge, ever-evolving blackboard dominates a shop comparatively modest in size considering the abundance it shelters: well over 200 cheeses from around the world. You're bound to come away with the perfect cracker-capper; the staff is knowledgeable, blessedly opinionated, and quick to offer samples. Also available are olives, wines, sausages, truffles, and everything else you'd need for a memorable gift basket.

North Beach

Broadway Cigars & Liquors

550 Broadway (between Grant and Kearny), 397-1310

Now, we're not saying that Broadway Cigars & Liquors has a bad location, exactly -- it's certainly wise to sell liquor in a neighborhood rife with strip joints, as sheepish gentleman customers may wish to arm themselves with a bit of dutch courage pre-patronage. But it is rather strange that this particular corner, which seems more suited to a sex shop emporium or a convenience store with an unusually large supply of condoms, would be home to one of the finest selections of cigars in town. Ask an employee for his or her advice and they'll help you with your choices -- is that $10 Montecristo Churchill really worth the couple of bucks over the price of the Macanudo Gold Label Lord Nelson? The reasoned, seasoned advice you'll receive is almost as sound as taking an exploratory puff, and that makes fighting your way past the goggling crowds of strip club spectators worth the trip.

Columbus Cutlery

358 Columbus (between Vallejo and Grant), 362-1342

This venerable landmark packs every variety of blade you can imagine into a tiny space dripping with Old Country charm. Top-quality scissors, cleavers, shears, boning knives, paring knives, hunting knives, and other sharp-edged instruments from around the world are available at reasonable prices for the gardener, chef, or homemaker on your shopping list. (This is also the place to come for one of those 007 Swiss Army knives with the corkscrew, magnifying glass, scissors, and toothpick built in.) The highly professional in-house sharpeners will make your knives better than new. Repairs offered as well.

Pacific Heights

Chan's Trains & Hobbies

2450 Van Ness (between Union and Green), 885-2899

There's nothing like the rattle and whistle of a model train wending its way round the tree on Christmas morning to beckon the child within, and Chan's is the place to start laying the track. The store's narrow confines are packed top to bottom with all manner of railway paraphernalia: cars of great individuality; gorgeous old streamlined engines, some in the $1,000 range; a wide selection of Lionels, American Flyers, Bachmanns, and Marklins; tracks in eight gauges; turf, tunnels, trees, bridges, and buildings for landscape verisimilitude; tools, replacement parts, and balsa wood for home repair work; and books, magazines, and catalogs to keep you up on the latest toy-train developments. And if you don't want to invest in all of that track and Astroturf, there are several lovely chrome-plated wind-up trains ideal for stuffing a stocking.

Kiehl's

2360 Fillmore (at Washington), 359-9260

There are women (and men) who salivate at the very mention of this luxurious line of soaps, lotions, shampoos, and ointments. Kiehl's cultists swear by this 152-year-old company that began as a small pharmacy in New York City. Now you can pamper your loved ones with lovely-smelling body washes, moisturizing lip balms, and light creamy conditioners. Helpful employees will assist you in putting together a great gift package larded with free samples -- whether you're spending $15 or $150.

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